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Dolphins' pressing training-camp issue: Secondary

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When it comes to the Dolphins, skepticism reigns

Posted July 29, 2009 @ 11:52 p.m.
Posted July 06, 2010 @ 11:35 a.m.
Updated Oct. 06, 2010 @ 7:27 p.m.
By Eric Edholm

To me, the Dolphins are flying below the radar. There are the sky-high Jets, replete with expectations of world domination. There are the Patriots, always a title contender, looking to exact measures after a few years of disappointment.

But for my money, the Dolphins could be the real surprise in the AFC East.

That is, if their secondary concerns are eased.

No, I don't think this group will be so poor that it will prevent them from making a run at the playoffs. But I believe there are some questions that need answers here that might end up being the biggest worries the team will have.

Sure, there are issues about the front seven and who will step up; about whether Chad Henne will make the requisite jump to get this team into the postseason; and about Ronnie Brown's health, the special teams and some of the pass catchers. But the secondary, with its multiple issues, stands above those for now.

CBs Vontae Davis and Sean Smith enter their second seasons with high expectations. There were times when both looked like first-round-caliber talents. But there were others where they clearly showed they needed work. Everyone was quick to put all the heat on the safeties (more on them in a bit) for their poor play, but the corners were not without blame either. Smith's size is intriguing, and Davis' athleticism and competitiveness are big plusses. But they must work on their consistency and tackling. Smith's movement skills were exposed a little by season's end, but his unique size and arm length allow him to be a step slow to flip his hips and burn.

While Dolphins fans pined for Antrel Rolle and Darren Sharper to fill the FS role, they went a different — and I believe smarter — direction. Right now, it's not a sexy trio: Chris Clemons vs. Tyrone Culver vs. Reshad Jones. But it was by far the more financially smart move, and I think they will get enough of this position to justify their approach. Clemons is confident and has foot speed. Culver can hit and make the occasional turnover. Jones is still raw (and reportedly looked it in minicamps) but is big, strong, athletic and could find a subpackage role.

Yeremiah Bell is a hitter, plain and simple. He's fine at strong safety, even if he's not a great ballhawk. He and Culver should be fine here.

But what else can make the coverage better? Pressure and Mike Nolan. With a better front seven and more pressure, the secondary will be asked to cover longer. And adding Nolan, some have argued, will be the team's biggest acquisition this offseason.

Look at what he did in his first season with the Broncos last season. They jumped from 29th defensively overall and 27th against the pass in 2008 to seventh and third, respectively, in '09. Nolan could make the Dolphins a top-15 pass defense if he can get consistent pressure from OLBs Cameron Wake and Koa Misi (and others) and find a dependable rotation at free safety.

it's not a stretch.

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